Lazer Engraved Blocks

OK…. I was not going to post this information until I had time to finish my testing, but since the topic came up in another Posting, I felt that the time had come to share what I’ve discovered:

For about a year now, my shop has been experimenting with printing blocks engraved by Lazer directly from digital images onto various types of materials. We’ve tried plexiglass and several other forms of plastic such as resin-grave, metal, and many different types of wood. Most of these materials do not produce clean, fine lined blocks when zapped with a 40-watt beam of red light. They either melt, produce ragged edges, are too soft to hold a good image or take hours and hours to cut.

We had little in the way of useable results…. until we tried the type-high, tight grained cherry wood that we use for hand-engraved illustrations. The results with this material are GREAT. In fact, they are SO good that we have abandoned PP plates entirely, in favor of this new process.

Specifically, we purchase 1” cabinet grade cherry, then let it cure for at least a year. (This curing is CRITICAL) Once it’s cured, we plane it to slightly over type high with a planer, and then use a scraper to take off any ridges or marks left by planing. This is the same material we hand-engrave for other types of work so we have a lot of experience making good engraving surfaces . Then we engrave it using a 40-watt machine driven by digital images created with Corel Draw. We cut our blocks to .040 for type and .020 for halftones.

Below is a pic of one block we cut a few days ago. This particular one was rejected due to a couple of layout errors…. but it shows what is easily achievable. The smallest type show is 4 pt Arial Light, which prints cleanly without difficulty on a Sigwalt #5. We’ve also produced and printed a number 120 line halftones, and dozens of line-cuts. .

We’ve done press runs of well over 5,000 impressions of 4pt type, with little or no visible breakdown of the image quality image. As a process for letterpress, it’s one of the best I’ve encountered…. and I’ve been doing this for a loooong time.

Now…. about costs: Since we do all of the work ourselves, we see a considerable savings over farming out PP plates to outside vendors. The only three expenses we have are the cost of the raw cherry wood, the capital expense of the lazer, and our own labor. We have not yet calculated what we would have to charge IF we were to offer these blocks for sale to other shops….. and we are probably not going to sell them. To be honest, we’re far too busy with everything else we have going on right now.

So…. there you have it: a report on Lazer Engraved Wood Printing Blocks. The process works extremely well.

Winking Cat Press
Mobile Alabama

image: wood engraved 2.JPG

wood engraved 2.JPG

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Hi - Great job - I think you’re really on to something. I predict that in a few years many of us will be using this technique. I think some of the 40W cutters are under $2000, not sure how good they are but cheap enough for someone to experiment. The way good type is going up and up, this might be a reasonable alternative. Besides a block of cherry looks better on a handpress than polymer. Cherry will be the next boxwood.

Ginkgo Leaf Press


I’ve thought of using casting metal (ludlow/linotype) but my concern would be that laser vaporizes the material, and thus the lead content. Nothing any of us want to breath. Not sure how aluminum or magnesium would be as far as toxicity.

The other thing is this is only a 40watt laser. Far to slow to cut metal for production. I suspect a high enough wattage laser would produce good results in a timely manner in even a steel plate. As said in the other post however, machines of this strength are really out of reach for the hobbyist.

I know you’ve said you’ve tried a bunch of materials, how did fine grain birch finish plywood fair?

Devil- That is a good point….. I’m glad you brought it up.

None of the Cherry we buy is from old growth or naturally standing forrests. It all comes from trees culled from commercial fruit growers, and thus is constantly being replanted. As long as folks eat Cherry Pies, we’ll have a supply of wood.

The disadvantage is that the wood is smaller than old-growth… and so our blocks are limited to ~6” wide. It’s also more expensive, but it’s a small price to pay for peace-of-mind.

We have also done a lot of blocks on recycled wood such as piano-maker’s and cabinet maker’s off-cuts, and discarded furniture. Just because a process is wood-based does not mean it’s eco-unfriendly. We at WCP are VERY eco-minded…. with a complete solar/ wind energy system, and paper re-cycling operation…. so we do understand your concern.

Lammy- Linotype metal or any lead-based material would indeed outgas hazardous fumes, so I would not recommend it. We did try several metals that did not work well, partially for the reason you cited:

Aluminum sheet- produced ragged edges, and the thin pieces tended to melt away.

1/8 Magnesium etching plate- cut very nicely, right up until it caught on fire and damaged my machine. It is very difficult to put out a magnesuim fire, as I discovered.

3/16 Highly polished Mild steel- cuts very cleanly, and makes a beautiful plate… but VERY slowly. It took many passes, and all day to make one 4x6 plate. If I were going to do a project of extremely high value, or an itaglio plate, this is what I’d use….. but for most jobs it would be too expensive on a 40 watt machine.

Brass- shows the best promise. We cut a number of 1/8” medium-hard brass plates, which carried excellent detail when cut to .030” deep. With a 40 watt machine, it is still too slow for production use. The brass also had a tendency to loose detail after a few hundred impressions. It you look at the plates under a loupe you see that the edges are rounding off, much like worn-out type. A harder brass might correct this, but we have not tried it yet.

As far as other woods we tried, we tried everything we could lay our hands on. Cherry was the best. The next best was hard-maple. We bought printing blocks from a specialty company, and cut them. They are almost as good as the cherry. Poplar also works fairly well, but is too soft to hold small details.

The plywoods we tried were Finnish Birch, Luan, HDO, and Japanese Shina (used in printmaking). These are all useable for large images, but do show some grain no matter how fine you sand them. They don’t work well for tiny details because the small details tend to break out along the grain. For 12 pt and larger type, it does produce a useable image. We did not do a long run test with any of these, and I’d guess that they be rather fagile.

Winking Cat Press
Mobile Alabama

excuse my never ending dumb questions… . how about cured photopolymer? Expose the entire block to harden it then cut it with the laser?

I was wondering if the magnesium would catch fire. I think that’s the stuff that’s claimed to be able to burn through the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Your using a red light laser, did you look into CO2 Lasers?

I’ve never tried it, but it doesn’t seem to be the best use of the material. If one is going to buy PP material and use it with a lazer, then it would probably be best to expose it using a quick lazer pass and then wash it out….. this is what the other posting was about, I thought.

About Magnesium: it burns fiercely when ignited with a lazer. Fortunately this particular bit of metal was attached to a larger wood block, so I had something to grab and toss out of the machine. Otherwise it would have ruined it for sure.

Do you do anything to seal the grain after cutting? I’m also curious if a pentrating epoxy like RestoreIt CureRot would extend the length of run.

I have not sealed the grain with anything after cutting, but I did try a block of cherry that had been thoroughly pre-sealed with linseed oil. During the cutting, it smoked a lot more and the end result was not as clean looking.

May I ask what laser machine are you using? I contacted my local laser shop last friday to run a test for me. (I have since bought some maple for the test, but not run the file yet) Funny to stumble across this thread today. How deep are you cutting?

Oops, saw the depth after I posted.

I’m using an Epilog Zing 24, 40 watts that I bought used. The only modification that I made to it was a forced-air ventillation system to keep it from smoking up my office.

WCP: it appears that you are using the face of the wood. I would imagine that the small unsupported portions (like in the seal) might be susceptible to breaking off. Have you considered using the end-grain? perhaps that would be stronger in that fashion.


Yes, I am cutting the face of the plank and not the end-grain. Theoretically, end grain would be far superior in terms of longevity….. and that is what I’d prefer to use, but the time to correctly produce end-grain blocks makes them more expensive. Also, there are very few folks who can make end-grain blocks that do not check or seperate along the glue lines.

The use of side-grain Cherry is a work-around for the cost and lack of end-grain wood. It works well, even for small areas of detail. One thing that my laser allows is sloping of the cut edges, so that fine detail is not as fragile as it appears.

Winking Cat, I have used artboards(tm)
for laser engraving. their endgrain maple worked super. I had a client about 4 years ago approach me about
printing some Willard Clark wood engravings they were to warped to print from the original blocks,fortunatly
Willard had pull some good repros so I had those scaned sent those off to a friend that does custom wood inlays for yachts and pleasure craft and he did the laser work. I had very good results and the client was james

James- thanks for the tip. I’ll give their end-grain blocks a try.

Winking Cat Press,

Thank you so much for sharing this information. We tried many things when we started out, but never had success and so we abandoned it. After reading your posts, I am definitely going to run out and get some cherry to try.

Question: What happens if you do not age the cherry for a year? I am guessing it warps? Also, would you share where you are able to buy cherry that is from orchards?

Glenwood Morris
Oslo Press Inc.

if the cherry is not aged/ cured for a long time, you run the risk of having it warp along the grain. I’m lucky in that my shop has been curing and planing cherry for a number of years for woodblock usage, and so we have a great deal of experience in choosing good pieces.

My source for wood is from a specialty shop who buys whole trees and cuts them for furniture grade lumber. We’ve had a business relationship for a number of years. As far as I know, he does not sell his wood commercially. I’ll ask though, just in case. I don’t know where other cherry-wood suppliers get their wood, but I would guess that some vendors are better than others.

Wow gents, this is great stuff. The other day I commented that someone should come up with a laser thing that cuts a plate and bye bye film. Actually I must say I still do negs using the good and old positive to negative exposure and maybe I will buy a camera and try with it.

I am very surprised by looking at the picture. You are onto something great. Cherry wood seems fancy but hey, the best result is what you want.

I would be interested on having a plate done, with an engraving I have, it is “Gutenberg First Proof” at his press and looks very clean, from Harpers Magazine around 1890s. It has 0.125 hairlines and I would like to know if you like to try work on a plate for me, if that is OK with you.

Have you found the way back to wood carvings?



I have one of the cheaper co2 lasers 40w power hx3040 , ive been using it for a year or so for making the plates for hot foil printing and flexographic printing,
recently ive used the same photopolymer hotofoil plates on my heidelberg
I use the stndard photopolymer plates, burn away the gaps and then uv cure it to set it, it will engrave the plates once uv cured, i just tend to do it afterwards ,once cured there ready for use with no drying as i dont have to wash them, on the flexographic i use the flexy photopolymer plates and do the same, you can also engrave and cut rubber sheet as well,
the co2 laser does very fine engraving , but wont touch metal at all

Thanks for sharing! Direct-to-plate is here, I guess.

I just had a job interview with a company making gobos for lighting… not printing, but a lot of the same design considerations. They are still too intimidated by the cost of laser machines to move away from photo litho…If I get the job, I will start poking at them to demo an Epilog or somesuch.

You probably already know the source, but I would point you towards McClain’s printmaking supplies (, as they carry cherry blocks. If I remember, they plane them to around 3/4, so you would have to shim to type height. It is all cured already, so might be a good, if expensive source, in a pinch.

Hello winking cat press, and all of those who participated in this nice discussion about laser engraving.
As i’m opening a shop, I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to start directly with laser engraved block instead of polymers.

I find that on the medium/long-run the laser solution is cheaper, and I like working with natural blocks instead of plastic…

Do you think a 30w can do the job ?
And how long does it takes to engrave a block (let say A5 size), with your Epilog 40W ?

Epilog seems to be a good brand, but it’s quite expensive. Any names in mind ?

Finally, one more question : on McClain’s website DBrunette mentionned, it’s says : DO NOT USE ON A PRESS - for Hand Printing ONLY.

Is the cherry blocks on a windmill breaks ?

Thanks a lot for your feedbacks, I learn a lot on Briar Press…

Niko- I’ve printed many, many cherry blocks on a C&P and on a Vandercook without a problem. I don’t know why McClains has a note about using theirs for hand-printing only, unless they havea tendency to warp or split.

rubber stamp companies use a laser to make rubber stamps, they have a special rubber, stamp rubber is pretty soft, but my last real job was working for a company that made rubber plates for printing on corrugated boxes, the plates are even softer than rubber stamps, but they had a man that was a hand engraver he would make some cuts on a very hard rubber, he cut a couple for me that i took to my shop and crash printed with them, wonder if this rubber would cut on a laser? Dick G.

This thread is really interesting. i’m glad i stumbled over it.

I wonder though, how long are your burn times? is it depending entirely on how much wood you need to burn away?

I’m thinking of trying laser cut but it sounds like it might be difficult to predict the length of the burn and therefor the cost of the processing. i don’t already have a laser on hand so i would have to be outsourcing that so my laser work would all be billed by the minute.

when it comes to working with end grain i worry also about the glued-seams showing in larger areas. has anyone any experience with end-grain issues like this?


We use a co2 laser cutter for making architectural models at my college. We use a pressed board (similar to masonite).

Why wouldn’t you just cut the printed surface out of ply or compressed board and glue it onto a base; à la photopolymer plates?

You could also cut out a font of letters and glue them onto pre cut blocks & make a set of faux wood type.

Seems like engraving a whole board is very time consuming as opposed to just cutting out the letters.

I plan on trying some of the end grain maple. on a 60w co2 laser. Does anyone have any suggested settings?

Oh, and by the way, when I got the blocks from art boards, they were well below type high, so if anyone orders these, I would call and make sure they measure before they send them.
The guy there said they have been having problems getting them type high on the recent batches.

RMG, A year later.. we actually just tried the photopolymer plates stuck them to some cintra (a sign making plastic) and MDF and cut out letters. It makes for good practice when you can find that wood type made by Hamilton on Ebay (which is ridiculously expensive for how old it is). It works great and could be used as an entire typeface or as replacements. We also experimented with placing the letters on the base of the press using double sided tape for free form type setting, and it works! We have been looking at this as an affordable way for type students to be able to work and play with larger letterforms without having to foot the cost of finding or making wood type out which uses more expensive materials.

We have replaced PP plates in our shop with laser engraved Delrin sheets. The Delrin is available in many thicknesses from McMaster-Carr and works well with small details. For less detailed work we use a urea formaldehyde free - water resistant MDF with little to no wax. The absence of wax helps the the detail and also makes less “crust” on the surface.

I would be careful with the Sintra. The information I have found states it is a PVC plastic. Engraving PVC creates chlorine gas, which is not good for your machine or your health.

More info here:

No, we are just using the sintra to shim the MDF and polymer stack up to type high. Burning plastic is always pretty bad..

I am interested in seeing some photos of the Delrin sheet printing plates if your willing to share

Hello fellow laser block makers!

I’m surprised and pleased to see this thread still active after two years. I truly see Laser-Cut blocks as the eco-friendly wave of letter-press’ future….. especially if you cut recycled wood like I do.

About maple boards from McClains: i don’t know, I haven’t tried them. BUT regular type high maple or cherry works great. I make my own….. but the only reason I can think of that would be a cause for concern would be warpage. If the wood is not well cured before you plane it to thickness, it may warp. I let my wood sit around in my shop for several months, THEN plane it to type high. It’s the same process I used to use when making wood bases for PP or magnesium cuts.

About plastics: I’ve used delrin from McMaster Carr…. and Joe is right. It seems to be pretty good stuff. I don’t use it though. I’ve found that many, many different types of wood work very well and don’t see the need for using plastics. I’m not opposed to it or anything….. I just like wood better.

About the “type high” concerns that some folks seem to have about store-bought blocks: stop worrying about it, and get on with your printing. The vast majority of store bought blocks that I’ve seen are just a bit too short, which is no problem. Just shim them up with paper or chipboard…. or maybe even thin plywood if they are really, really short…. and print with them. It takes longer to discuss and fret about it than it does to shim ‘em up.

I routinely use blocks that have been cut, printed, re-planed, and re-cut. As long as they are thick enough to lock up with your furniture, then they’ll print ok once shimmed up.

By the way: Colt…. good work

Play and Press… a 60W would work like a charm. you’ll have to experiment with the settings to match your particular wood, though.

“I routinely use blocks that have been cut, printed, re-planed, and re-cut. As long as they are thick enough to lock up with your furniture, then they’ll print ok once shimmed up.”

Sounds kinda like graining a lithography stone with a levigator, but WOOD. I like this notion. A lot.

So, I’ve seen a variety of laser cutters and engravers out there. If someone wanted to start out with this, and basically wanted to have a dedicated laser setup, what would be required? Are many of them Mac friendly, or would I have to slave a PC to it and make sure all my files were usable cross platform?

So as I saw above apparently some of the 40W laser cutters are under 2K, and that was in ‘09 (may have gotten a little less expensive).
Would anyone care to give me an idea of what their actual costs were to set this all up?
Cutter, Vacuum exhaust, software, etc.?
Will this kind of thing work with something like Illustrator or will I need rip/CAD software or some exotic thing to learn? I know there is a whole forum on this sort of CNC/Laser stuff, but I just want some quick answers to my query rather than an afternoon of research, and I’m pressed for time right now.

Thanks kindly in advance!

Wow, in quite the rush Heman!

Yeah, I just went ahead and did the research this afternoon when I found myself with a free :45”. I suppose there are a lot of different models out there, and they are at a variety of pricepoints.

Free is always nice. I’d like to know what brands and models folks are using. I’ve looked at laser engravers before and always come away unsure if they’re suitable for deep cutting or not.

Hello winking cat,

This is a great dicussion that I am just finding now. I am a long time letterpress admirer but new to the printing world. In fact, I am still working on the purchase of a Heidelberg Windmill I recently found. In addition to printing, I am interested in cutting custom wood plates and new wood type. My husband’s family owns the country’s oldest pipe organ business and has the perfect equipment to use to work with wood—including a laser.

I would be very interested in emailing/speaking/visiting you to learn more about your operation. I believe we may even be of help to you in providing type height wood blocks for your projects.

I have tried to find you on the web, but am having a hard time. Do you have a website I could visit or a way we could continue the conversation?


Good Morning Danni…… yes, you may e-mail me. I’d be glad to talk to you. Just send me a message via Briar Press, and it will go to my mailbox.

No… you won’t find me on the Web since I don’t have a blog or web-site.

I think it’s a great coincidence that your family is in the pipe organ business…. since I’ve built two of them myself in the past. One is a small portatif with only 16 pipes, and the other is a chest type with 2 1/5 octaves and 9 chords. Mine weren’t as big and fancy as some of the ones that I’m sure you’ve seen….. but they were a lot of fun to build and play. There is something really cool about the sound a pipe organ makes.

Hi Winking Cat, I am very new to letterpress and I was wondering how laser engraving would do. I really am glad to see pics of examples. Would you care to give me some guidance on a laser to buy. I won’t hold you to anything, just need some pointers as I know little, except that an Epilog costs more than my car!!
I see some Chinese import lasers on ebay and if the result examples in the pics are true to the machine they look great.
Anyway, just would like to ask your preference. I appreciate it!

Buy American!

I’ve been experimenting with laser cut acrylic as an alternative to polymer and it shows promising results, but there are a few issues.
Mainly, the acrylic tends to curl towards the image side, possibly due to the heat.
I’m also concerned that the acrylic is too glossy to hold the ink evenly.
Any guidance would be appreciated.

I have a few weeks for personal projects in January… so I figured I’d take a laser-cutter class at Techshop in San Francisco and try my hand at making some larger wood type instead of breaking my heart on eBay. I’m just about to lay the last touches on my restored Nolan No.2 and it is already screaming for use. =)

According to American Wood Type, the grain was sealed with oil (my research suggests boiled linseed oil) and pumice, I’m guessing that was in addition to a base coat and subsequent layers of shellac. If I buy type-high, side grain blocks to laser-engrave, I’m guessing they would need a similar treatment. It makes sense to me that it would be best to seal the block before engraving, in order to get as uniform a coat as possible across the surface?

The process itself seems fairly straight forward, the only question is whether the shellac finish would interfere with the laser-process/edges and thus would be better applied after the block has been cut? Perhaps some of you guys have tried both and compared?

Looking forward to trying my hand at this, I need a new project now that the Nolan is almost done and there’s not enough room in my apartment for another press =)


Kim…. i would not recommend sealing the grain prior to using a lazer. All the oil does is burn, and accomplishes nothing.

I’ve experimented with a LOT of materials, and the best results have been with Cherry and Maple blocks…. not on plastics, plastic coated woods, or woods with any sort of sealant….. just plain old, well-seasoned wood.

THEN after they are cut, you need to clean any resins off using mineral spirits. Then if you can seal them if you want. I don’t. I’ve not found it to be a requirement….. they work just fine unsealed.

Good Luck,
aka Winking Cat Press

I have spend several years on creating my own blocks, the best result have come from Delrim or Acetal Resin (DuPont). Unlike Acrylic the edges don,t pucker up from the heat. A quick rub of super fine water paper and it prints like a dream. The good thing is we can have up to a 3mm relief for deep debossing. We don,t use photo polymer plates any longer. Although the Delrin is a bit expensive, the ease and fine detail makes it well worthwhile.

I also mill Lino, MDF, and hardwood on a little Roland MDX20 desktop CNC milling machine.
It is well worth playing around with it.

Relevant Vintage Press
South Africa


Do you laser engrave Delrim to make blocks.

Tara Naturals

Laser toner is not good for your health.

Read this article I found:

Daniel, I’ve had large type laser cut in acrylic, no issues with inking them, but I made sure to take the burr of the edges. Stuck them down with double sided tape on an IKEA shelf and printed them without a problem.

image: acrylic_type.JPG


Aaron this thread is about using a laser cutter/engraver to make printing plates. Your article refers to the toner used in desktop like printers. Laser engraving has it’s own hazards but so does sitting at a desk. cheers

Tuning pretty low on a epilog 40 watt laser I was able to get very nice results with an automatic shoulder setting in blockprinting linoleum. If it got too hot it would melt but once i got a low power burn it worked very well. The cherrywood looks nicer.

It’s good to see that after 6 years, my original idea is still being worked with. I still find that wood makes a superior surface, IF one takes the time to season it well.

That is not to say I’m opposed to lasering plastics…. some of them work well. It’s just that I prefer the ease of working and pleasant smell of the cherry wood.

As a <5 years into all this… Wow! Thanks for all the good info.

Did this post resolve the question of whether a C02 laser cutter is good choice v. a red-light laser?

Also, which brand, model etc is a current good choice?

I no nothing about these machines, but want to learn



winking cat press, Ah hem, “All ideas are second hand” Mark Twain. best james

James… perhaps…. but didn’t Edison say that invention was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? If that’s the case, then I still get credit since I took the time to do the experimentation and publish the results. ;)

just kidding. Lasering of wood-blocks for printing has been experimented with by a lot of folks, for a number of years now. My contribution has only been in testing materials, and popularizing the technique. I still claim credit for inventing the now-famous Gummy Bear Rollers, though.

LetterDad….. Since I’ve never worked with the different of types lasers, I don’t know. I’d guess that the source would not be as important as how accurately the machine cuts.

About newer makes and models: again, I don’t know. My old machine was used when I got it, and is now virtually obsolete.

Maybe one of the folks who have bought a machine recently can clue us in as to which currently available machines are the best….

winking cat, I thought you also invented the scuba tank press.I was going over this thread and it goes back 6 years!
I noticed that HD Tiegle page has expired I hope Andre
is well or safely on the other side. james

James…. your are right. i did invent the Scuba Tank Press. But I must admit that it’s not my favorite invention. It requires WAY too much real work to build! It does work well though. I still use my little one for proofing type and blocks.

I too have noticed that Andre has not been seen lately, and share your sentiment.